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Leafs Look For Better Start Tonight

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Video: Preview | Coach | Steen | Kubina | Grabovski | Tlusty | Colaiacovo | Carbonneau | Tanguay | Komisarek

Ron Wilson understands why the Toronto Maple Leafs seem so prone to falling behind and, often enough, coming back.  If you don’t find deficits upsetting, you will surely encounter them.

“They’re kids,” said the Leafs coach of his team. “They love to go to those parks with six roller coasters. They could spend the whole day on them. I get a little nauseated, to be honest with you.”

The Leafs prepare for tonight’s Hall of Fame game against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre and haven’t won since they beat the Rangers 5-2 in regulation after spotting New York a 2-0 lead.

They have come back from a 2-0 goal deficit to collect at last one point five times this season and have a 3-0-2 record in those games. Still, the wild nights strain lines, deplete resources and tax energy. The Leafs have been outscored 18-9 in their first periods.

A dispiriting 5-2 defeat like the one the club incurred in Boston Thursday is often the end result of too many highs and lows.

Wilson would love to promise lower mountains and higher valleys but he views the thrills as inevitable. He does not line-match a great deal, preferring instead to challenge and develop his young players. He is not coaching for a playoff spot, but for improved performance and development. All that means, especially against a superior team like the 8-1-2 Canadiens, you take the highs with the lows.

“I don’t enjoy it but it’s still entertaining to watch,” he said. “And there’s no way our team is going to quit.”

The Canadiens will start Carey Price (6-1-1, 2.17 GAA) tonight and bring the same talented, healthy lineup they used to dispatch Toronto 6-1 in the Leafs home-opener.

The Leafs say they haven’t forgotten...

“We all realize how the game went last time,” said rookie defenceman Luke Schenn.

Leafs’ defenceman Jeff Finger is playing his first game against the Habs. A foot injury sidelined him from the original contest but he was still enjoying the buzz.

“This is hockey,” he said. “Montreal versus Toronto, Saturday night."

Finger, signed as a free agent off the roster of the Colorado Avalanche, says he loves being a Leaf.

“It’s a great place,” he said. “I don’t know where else you would want to play in the NHL.”

The Leafs will be without John Mitchell, who injured his shoulder against the Boston Bruins. Mitchell will be out at least a week but counts himself lucky.

“It’s just like a slight separation, it will be a while but it feels better every day.

I think I was fortunate that it wasn’t a substantial injury.”

Nik Antropov, who suffered a bruised left foot against the Bruins, will play tonight.

Neither Anton Stralman or Jonas Frogren will play against Montreal. Carlo Colaiacovo and Jiri Tlusty are in. Tlusty was sent down after a tepid early-season. Tlusty had just two assists in five games with the Marlies.

The Leafs are riding a hot Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski, dangerous all season, has scored five goals in his last three games.

One of Wilson’s goals was to spare his goalies extra work by getting forwards and defencemen to block shots. He is also an advocate of throwing the puck at the net.

The Leafs have listened. Toronto leads the NHL with 225 blocked shots. The Leafs average shots per game is 34.8, behind only San Jose (37.6) and the Detroit Red Wings (36.9).
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